Weekend links 527

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Poster art by Bob Peak.

• Sidney Lumet’s 1977 film of Peter Shaffer’s Equus receives a limited blu-ray release by the BFI in August. Richard Burton’s performance has always received a mixed response (I’ve never been in the anti-Burton camp) but the film is serious and well-made. And, as with The Offence (1973), there’s the thrill of seeing Lumet turn his attention away from his beloved New York City to examine British lives.

• “Astronomer claims to have pinpointed date of Vermeer’s View of Delft.” Yes, but how long did it take Vermeer paint the view? Speaking as someone who used to paint a lot, I’d say two or three days at least. Then there’s that awkward thing known as “artistic licence”…

• “I was taken aback by the antic side of Borges. He was irreverent, funny, insistent on his ways, and brilliantly talkative.” Jay Parini on Jorge Luis Borges, and his experience as the writer’s chauffeur in the Scottish Highlands.

• Strange Islands: Benjamin Welton on a favourite cinematic micro-genre I explored here a few years ago: the mysterious tropical island that’s a home to fearsome beasts and outsized (often deranged) personalities.

Greydogtales on The Sapphire Goddess of Nictzin Dyalhis, the Weird Tales writer with a name like a character from one of his stories.

• “I came for the giant phalluses and stayed for the joy of being a gay person.” Eight artists on the influence of Tom of Finland.

Tamsin Cleary on Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (1977) which she calls “the world’s most demented haunted house film”. It really is.

The Gone Away, a short film by Sean Reynard for the forthcoming album from Belbury Poly.

Moorcography: the beginnings of an online Michael Moorcock bibliography.

• “Our sound engineer got a death threat”: Andrew Male on Olivia, a lesbian record label.

Bajo el Signo de Libra explores the art of Aubrey Beardsley.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg Day.

The secret drawings of Great Britain’s UFO Desk.

Wyrd Daze Lvl.4 is here.

The Four Horsemen (1971) by Aphrodite’s Child | All The Pretty Little Horses (2004) by Coil | When The Horses Were Shorn Of Their Hooves (2018) by Dylan Carlson

Tom’s World

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The celebratory stamps produced by the Finnish postal service in 2014.

A post for Touko Valio Laaksonen, the man known to the world as Tom of Finland, born 100 years ago today. Back in March I finally acquired Tom of Finland XXL, a gorgeous, heavyweight Taschen volume edited by Dian Hanson, as a result of which Tom and his leather-clad muscle-men have been in my thoughts even without his anniversary. The thick-necked hunks that populate Tom’s drawings have never been my ideal of masculine beauty but I admire his dedication to erotic obsession as well as his draughtsmanship, the latter even more so after seeing the high-quality reproductions in Hanson’s collection. The drawings from the 1970s and 80s are especially impressive, when success had given the artist more time to spend perfecting his figures and capturing all the ways that leather apparel folds itself and reflects the light. His beautiful pencil renderings of jackets, trousers and boots treat their subjects to the careful scrutiny that Dutch still-life painters used to devote to pheasants and apples; this is a fetishist’s infatuation raised to the status of art.

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Leather duo (1963).

Tom of Finland’s progress from amateur pornographer to gallery artist and national institution is a very unlikely career path, especially when he wasn’t dependent on the support of the art market. Tom’s earliest drawings and comic strips were relatively simple things but still explicit enough for the Finnish authorities in the 1940s to find them obscene. Many erotic artists have been subject to similar opprobrium but none of them have achieved posthumous fame as the most internationally visible male artist from the nation that once proscribed their work, and all this without toning down that work in any way. Tom shares his celebrity with Moomin creator Tove Jansson, which means that Finland is now the only nation in the world whose art is represented internationally by a gay man and a lesbian. Their work, needless to say, could hardly be more different, despite both artists being adept at black-and-white illustration and the creation of sequential narratives. Jansson’s Moomins have been universally popular for many years but Tom of Finland’s art, which has never been anything other than gay pornography, is inevitably limited in its appeal. The lavish depictions of cock-sucking and anal sex are so profuse and unrelenting that whatever is shown of his drawings in the general media is always carefully selective, shunning the enormous penises in favour of a moustached face or a pair of embracing clones.

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I’m amused by this and also reassured that there are still a few aspects of human life that are too anarchic for exploitation by mass media. The global domination of American culture and American technology has rendered everything grist to its all-devouring mill, everything, that is, except for explicit sex. Pornography is also a part of the US cultural behemoth but it’s like the bastard child that everybody pretends doesn’t exist and wishes would go away. America’s gay publications gave Tom of Finland his nom de plume and made him famous, but porn, for a variety of reasons, resists universal acceptance and approval. Tom’s art is so single-minded in its representation of gay men gleefully fucking each other that there’s little about it that can be exploited by cultural products intended to appeal to the widest audience, or sold to nations with repressive attitudes to gay sex and sexuality. Tom’s libidinous leather-clad hero, Kake, ejaculates his way through multiple penetrations and gang bangs the likes of which you’ll never see in a big-budget franchise, no matter how much Hollywood teases audiences with more polite same-sex scenarios. How many erections are a paying audience prepared to swallow?

Continue reading “Tom’s World”

Weekend links 510

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• Saul Bass’s cult science-fiction film, Phase IV, has received a very welcome (Region B) blu-ray release from 101 Films. Everything is a metaphor for the unavoidable just now, but a film about a group of scientists besieged by a tiny and insidious biological threat can’t help but have additional resonance. The new release includes the original (and seldom seen) cosmic ending plus another disc containing several of Bass’s short films. Previously: Directed by Saul Bass.

• Music at the Internet Archive: Live at Metro (2007) by Sora, and three rare cassette releases by French synth-rock duo Fondation: Metamorphoses (1980), Sans Etiquette (1980), and Le Vaisseau Blanc (1983).

• Mixes of the week: a Manu Dibango (RIP) mix from Aquarium Drunkard, and Industrial Synth Rave Isolation Mix by Moon Wiring Club.

We must talk about Nightwood. The novel that sits between those early and late phases of her writing life, the tale of Felix Volkbein, Robin Vote, Dr Matthew-Mighty-Grain-of-Salt-Dante-O’Connor and many others, caught between world wars and each other, in the decadent cities of Europe. The novel follows the journey of Robin Vote, who is more “earth-flesh, fungi, which smells of captured dampness” than person. Sleepwalking through life, she nonetheless wakes up her fellow characters Nora, Felix and Jenny, who each try and pin her down, to no avail. It is a novel that defies synopsis. It is unsurprising that this remarkable book has attracted a “burgeoning body of interpretations”, as Tyrus Miller here notes; yet it seems that there are still new ways to approach it. Julie Taylor offers an affective reading, for example; Joanne Winning concentrates on Nightwood’s collaborative origins, exploring the fruitful and often overlooked creative relationship between Barnes and her partner, Thelma Wood. This is not just a case of considering that relationship as source material for the novel, but unpacking what Winning describes as their “lesbian modernist grotesque”. It is particularly welcome that Winning treats Wood as a silver-point artist in her own right.

Jade French reviews Shattered Objects: Djuna Barnes’s Modernism

• Ben Beaumont-Thomas on where to start with Kraftwerk, and Jennifer Lucy Allan on where to start with Alice Coltrane.

• The BBC’s Culture page discovers Tom of Finland but can’t bring itself to show much of his artwork.

• The art of Asterix: illustrator Albert Uderzo (RIP) at work.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on “a marvel of clockwork ingenuity”.

• The films Wes Anderson is watching during isolation.

Greydogtales on six more strange tales that linger.

Adrian Searle‘s favourite online art galleries.

• The Ghost Box label is now at Bandcamp.

Twin Flames (Edit) by Lustmord.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Flamboyant.

Phase By Phase (1976) by Peter Baumann | Phase 3: Agni Detonating Over The Thar Desert… (1995) by Earth | Phase Draft (2003) by Bill Laswell

Weekend links 478

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Poster by Tadanori Yokoo for The Trip (1967).

• Post of the week is this long-overdue introduction by Warren Hatter to the French rock and electronic music of the 1970s and 80s, a variety of Continental culture which has never commanded the same level of interest in the Anglophone world as its German equivalent. The music made in Germany in the 1970s became popular in Britain thanks to record labels UA and Virgin, and support from enthusiasts like John Peel, but the label “Krautrock” demonstrates how even a favourable form could be promoted in a manner not much better than a tabloid slur. French underground music, as Hatter notes, was never recognised enough to be explicitly labelled although the term “Eurorock” was common for a while in the UK music press, useful for avoiding the slurs while also ignoring national boundaries. Now that German music of the period has been thoroughly explored, resurrected and plundered, more attention may be given to the musicians across la Manche.

Related: Eurock, the long-running distributor/publisher/website/podcast; David Elliott’s Neumusik fanzine, 1979–82; Richard Pinhas: Electronique Guerilla – A Profile by Tony Mitchell; and (linked here before) a Discogs list, French Underground Rock—1967/1980.

• More music: The Flower Called Nowhere, a previously unreleased instrumental version by Stereolab, and Midsummer’s Queen by Meadowsilver.

• Hard Time for the Hardcore: Nick Pinkerton on the pleasure of long feature films, and a decent article once you’re past the stupid sub-heading.

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor Press: Bass, Mids, Tops, An Oral History of Sound System Culture by Joe Muggs & Brian David Stevens.

Anthony Quinn reviews It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track, Ian Penman’s collection of music essays.

Bajo el Sigo de Libra on the art of Touko Valio Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland.

• Territory of Dreams: Becca Rothfeld on the world of Bruno Schulz.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 601 by Sa Pa.

• RIP Richard Williams, master animator.

A trailer for The Trip. RIP Peter Fonda.

The Trip (1966) by Donovan | Trippin’ Out (1967) by Something Wild | The Trip (1968) by Park Avenue Playground

Weekend links 373

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Untitled (2011) by YDK Morimoe. Via Jim Post at Dennis Cooper’s.

For The Climax Of The Night by Total Leatherette is almost certainly the only album you’ll see this year with autofellatio cover art. Faux Fox gives a taste of the new album, while an earlier piece, Squeeze Hunk, features a Tom of Finland-style video. And speaking of which, Dome Karukoski’s feature film, Tom of Finland, is released in the UK this week. Related: Tom of Finland coffee.

• The death of playwright Joe Orton in 1967 prompted yet more 50th anniversary articles this week. Mentioned here before, and better value than all the textual appraisal, is the BBC’s 70-minute TV documentary from 1982, A Genius Like Us: A Portrait of Joe Orton, which includes interviews with family, friends, colleagues and Orton’s biographer, John Lahr.

• Two skulls, 50,000 postcards and a book that took 50 years to finish: Stuart Jeffries visits artist Tom Phillips.

• New at the Internet Archive: 25,000 78RPM records. You can never go wrong with Duke Ellington.

Lock Your Door and The Reformation of St. Jules: Algernon Blackwood filmed in 1949.

Redemption, an exhibition of art by Fay Pomerance (1912–2001) at Ushaw College, Durham.

• At Dirge Magazine: Daniel Pietersen on the myth of the sunken city.

• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 613 by Aaron Dilloway.

Laetitia Sadier’s favourite albums.

• RIP Hywel Bennett

Sunken City (1961) by Les Baxter | Ys (1971) by Alan Stivell | Atlantis (1971) by Deuter